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Posted by Joris P. on 10/07/2003 04:30:05 PM

Nearly two years ago, an illustrious colleague of mine came to my humble abode to interview me. Not about our mutual profession, in which I’d be hard pressed to name any subfield in which I might be a considered an expert, but rather on my hobby – artisanal beer – a rather exotic datum in our field.

He managed to make me confess that my ultimate dream was to go to Denver, CO and experience the Great American BeerFestival. About a year later, I met three fantastic brewers (David Anderson, Todd Ashman and Dann Paquette, not to name them) and I knew a wild dream was getting true. Now, another year later, I’ve just returned from the dream, it having even been wilder than imagined; as the three gentleman above – with a little extra push from my friend and beerwriter Roger Protz – not only got me over, but put me right into the venerated judges’ seat. Judges, those enigmatic people who decide why the American brewer is going to get drunk on the last day of the event: from celebration or from frustration.

Being a judge is first a blessing: you’re on the first row for all good things, get invited to a lot of side events, have to do no queuing, etc. For a dedicated beerhunter (sorry, MJ) as me, it is equally a source of unending frustration: for having tasted about 15O+ beers, which I’ll never know to be what they were, unable to insert them in my notes – the meagre lot of 12 metal-winners excepted.

But I’d be loathe to complain: as a judge, I met a score of people whom I’d never had met otherwise. People like a fellow judge, from a big brewery with a very bad name amongst beergeeks, but all the same a man, who forgot more about beer than I’ll ever know about it. Studied 4 years in Belgium too – he was even able still to address me in Dutch. Well met, Dr. Villa.

I’ve been talking a lot in Dutch over there. It took me 25 years of beering around in Belgium and had finally to make it to the USA to talk with one of Belgium’s most legendary brewers of the beerrevival I rode on myself – Pierre Celis. And more Dutch with Peter Bouckaert of NBB fame, whom I finally could tell face to face how much I like his Foolishness. Or to an elderly gentleman, yet another judge, who proved to be a Dutchman from “den Oost” (that’s called Indonesia these days), thinks of himself as a Brit and lives in the USA.

Most of the talking I kept in the language of my hosts, however, no mistake. The Americans are proud of their beers, their festival and their nation. I agree they should be – if it wouldn’t make them blind to the other side of things. My first impression of Denver nearly made me wish to turn around and flee. The entrance to downtown Denver (itself interchangeable with any American downtown, nobody the wiser were it done), is an interminable lane boarded on both sides with dreary and utterly ugly one-store batiments, where, the pitiful signs tell, craft- and industrial activities take place. Oh yeah. And just before entering downtown, there was a stretch of three, four blocks square, were an unbelievable host of dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people were laying around, loitering or shuffling about, waiting for the Samaritan place to open for the night.

Would you believe my incomprehension when one of my American friends – and certainly not the least intelligent by far at that – in all earnesty told

me the next day that “comes the day that people in Belgium will have it as good moneywise as people in the USA, you might to do more travelling over, etc.” I nearly told him to go back to the Samaritan place, take a good look around, and then hop over here and search for the same (and we don’t hide them under bridges as the French do, BTW)…

But I digress – I was going to write about beer. Can the United States vie with Old Belgium for the best beernation? Doubtless. Ought they to be proud of their festival and its contents? Definitely. Does the Falling Rock rank amongst the worlds’ top beer bars? Absolutely. I heard MJ relate his meanderings with Charlie Papazian (another beerlegend I’ve met) whom he once, before it all started, asked “Sure we can make a ‘GABF’, Charlie – but what are we going to serve for beer?”. Now, scant years later, 1400 different, all-American ales on the Conventiongrounds. Way to go, as they express themselves.

I made unbelievable discoveries. I knew my friend Todd A makes wonderful concoctions, but his interpretation of tripel bowled me over (“Honey act your Sage” – where do you get it, Todd?). I’d wish our brewers would start making these things, instead of wanting to make the next perfect copy of Westmalle Tripel – or one of the other classics – and even on somebody elses brewing kettles. I met a fantastic gentleman by the name of Phillip Markowski, who was so anxious to know if his Saison was real enough. It’s gorgeous, it’s no Saison, but IMO he ought to take real pride in his own invention, “Peconic County Reserve” – arguably the best marriage of grape and grain I’ve tasted since Cantillon Vigneronne. I drank Russian River Temptation (shame on me, Vinnie, you had all your wonderful beers with you at Logan’s fun, and I only managed one meagre tasting on the grounds – even didn’t get to talk to you) and I think it’s super – though it’s no lambic.

There we are. THE ultimate discovery was the existence of a place called “The Bitter End Brewery”, in Austin, Texas of all places, were it appears people are reinventing the notion fruitbeer. In Texas grows a genus of cacteae, whose figs are used for making beer. With self-deprecating humour, they christened theirs “Sour Prick” and only duty (and 1399 other beers) prevented me from staying there and drinking “Sour Prick” until they’d chase me out of the building.

If only they wouldn’t call it lambic! It ain’t!! It might be seeded with all the right Bretts; lambic is the result of a centuries-long established dynamic equilibrium between dozens of bacteria and yeasts in a given environment. You cannot create that in a couple of years experimenting. Why do American brewers want in five years (or less) what took our forebears nearly 200? On the Internet I read a good one, once. The mistake of Europeans is to think of 100 miles as of a long distance. The mistake of Americans is to think of 100 years as of a long time…

And then I went to booze with Tomme Arthur himself, a man who had become a legend already in my book, long before ever seriously thinking of coming over. This GABF turned out his triumph, and well-earned it was too!

A competition is sometimes the worst place to judge a beer. As fate would have it, I had to judge two of America’s beergeeks best loved ales, having tasted them shortly before in ordinary commercial version. In both cases, commercial and competition version differed as different beers. I’ve been told before the GBBF/CBoB has been harbouring similar cases for years. It is a flaw of competition – maybe the competing beers ought to be bought on the open market by the organisers. But then, the competition would be obliged to search for other means of income (entering a beer is highly expensive) and brewers would no doubt complain of not getting a fair chance of presenting their beer in optimum condition (we all know how some beers are “manhandled” in some places).

But bettering things is the challenge. It is not by writing dismissive notes on the Internet – as does a quite famous American beerwriter, like “move the godd*mn thing”, “it is flawed”, etc. – that you achieve something for the better. Shut up, participate and try to change it from inside – be constructive. Criticising is easy – you see I can do that as well as any.

Apart from the judges (and of course, Chris Swersey, who became a familiar and friendly face during this week), I met the wonderful crew of stewards, both at the judging (awesome logistics) and on the Convention grounds , where a pourer-on-duty, seeing my flaunting ‘judge’-badge, accosted me and asked me what the h*ll he was supposed to tell people about the beer I just tasted – nobody had told him! I tried to describe it as honestly and plain as possible, so that occasional punters might have something from it. I hope it worked, my friend.

And lastly, there were the enthusiasts, on the grounds, at the FR. OK, I’ll never get into the spirit of yelling like primary school children when somebody drops his glass, but, OK, they mean well and are usually genuinely intrigued by the offerings – a much healthier attitude than the crowds at, say, GBBF (“Woddis the strongest lager ye got, mate?”) There’s hope for the American punter, and if I were Tomme, Peter or one of their bunch, I wouldn’t worry about the mirage-like 10% market share. I’m sure it will come.

There’s still so much to relate. One day, I will. One day I’ll tell more about the NB Brewery – truly any brewers’ wet dream. I wish I could drag over the whining Belgian craftbrewers’ set, eternally moaning about how difficult it all is, and show them what can be done if you’ve got some vision. Peter, you amply deserve this – you dared at least.

I could tell about this fantastic place called Falling Rock and its genial host, Chris Black-no-crap-on-tap. You haven’t, Chris, but I wonder … is there ANY seat in your place which hasn’t been used as knife-throwing practice target? For fellow European’s (with a similar mindset to my own) sake – an American bar free of E.G.N. (electronically generated noise) does not exist. In an American bar, there’s a strict minimum of six giant TV-screens, set on at least three different stations, constantly blaring their visual and even auditive “messages” over the din of the ‘music’, playing at that time. I think a place like Kulminator must scare the hell out of any unforewarned Yankee.

And of course, there’s the “Baksheesh-society”. Everybody you address the word to, and has to bat an eyelid doing so, expects a financial rewarding for that – a tip, as they call it here. Not just the waiter bringing you your food, or the valet (sic!) driving up your car (and testing the horn along), but even the guy behind the bar, tapping a pint of ale. Just because none of them gets anything near a decent wage, let alone social security. This leads to bizarre situations – even in a superb place as FR – where I went inside to check the chalk board of daily offerings, got accosted by the barman who wants his share, had to pay him beer and tip, instead of taking it out with me and have it put on the tab. And, of course, got eyed crosswise by “my” waiter, who sees a tip from my – his - table going elsewhere. Did I say third world?

But here I am complaining again, and I loved it all. All – no, I had one really BIG frustration. There was so much to taste and so little time! I identified +/- 125 beers, it should have been 300. For the last item, a little riddle. Why is it that, in a bar, one gets invariably a full pint of whatever, unless specifically asked otherwise, whilst on the festival grounds, one has to ask for a measly 1 fl oz. (that’s something like 5-6cl to a normal person)? Don’t look at me, I’d like to know too.

JorisPPattyn, Oct 2003

MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Joris P., 10/07/03 04:30:05 PM
        Joris you're a pompous ass - Tony, 10/13/03 04:11:11 PM
        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Rasputin, 10/10/03 07:24:52 AM
        Re: Response to musings.(also long but hopefully not a rant) - ChrisB, 10/09/03 09:28:59 PM
                Re: Response to musings.(also long but hopefully not a rant) - SteveG, 10/10/03 10:17:22 AM
                Re: Response to musings - Oops - Joris P., 10/10/03 06:19:21 AM
                        Re: Response to musings - Oops - Mark A, 10/13/03 12:21:14 PM
                        Re: Response to musings - Oops - Mitch Mather, 10/10/03 10:34:32 AM
                        Re: Response to musings - Oops - SteveG, 10/10/03 10:21:15 AM
        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Joelle, 10/09/03 02:29:15 PM
        dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - AlanC, 10/08/03 07:33:14 PM
                Re: dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - Mark A, 10/13/03 12:26:04 PM
                Re: dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - Aaron, 10/09/03 08:56:42 AM
                        Re: dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - Joris P., 10/09/03 10:54:05 AM
                                Re: dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - Bill Coleman, 10/11/03 10:30:15 AM
                                Re: dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - podge, 10/09/03 02:02:45 PM
                Re: dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - Joris P., 10/09/03 02:59:38 AM
                        Re: dropouts, tramps, and other sorry people - Mark A, 10/13/03 12:28:49 PM
                                weather - KSq Domer, 10/13/03 03:12:40 PM
        Great post! - Jeremy Gray, 10/08/03 03:46:20 PM
                Lip Burner Lamb Beak - Joelle, 10/09/03 02:16:54 PM
                Huh? - Jeremy Gray, 10/08/03 03:47:41 PM
        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - John Sturm, 10/08/03 12:21:39 PM
                Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - SteveG, 10/08/03 01:13:56 PM
                        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Andy Ager, 10/08/03 01:21:09 PM
        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - AlanC, 10/08/03 11:54:47 AM
        Great 'read' but a thought or two on the good 'ol USofA - ToddA, 10/08/03 09:09:27 AM
                Re: Great 'read' but a thought or two on the good 'ol USofA - Joris P., 10/08/03 11:37:32 AM
                        No need to take you to task... - ToddA, 10/08/03 11:58:26 AM
                        Re: Great 'read' but a thought or two on the good 'ol USofA - SteveG, 10/08/03 11:46:43 AM
                                Re: Great 'read' but a thought or two on the good 'ol USofA - Joris P., 10/08/03 05:33:43 PM
                                        Re: Great 'read' but a thought or two on the good 'ol USofA - SteveG, 10/09/03 12:38:10 PM
                                                Amen Steve! - Joelle, 10/09/03 02:23:09 PM
        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Jake, 10/07/03 06:45:01 PM
                Water - notes - bread - samplers - Logan, 10/08/03 05:15:04 PM
                Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Mitch Mather, 10/08/03 09:48:33 AM
                        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Andy Ager, 10/08/03 11:13:32 AM
                                Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Jake, 10/08/03 01:27:20 PM
                                        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Mitch Mather, 10/08/03 03:12:53 PM
                                                Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Mitch Mather, 10/08/03 03:15:33 PM
                                                        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Joris P., 10/08/03 03:34:18 PM
                                                                Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Jake, 10/08/03 08:15:57 PM
                                                                        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Mark A, 10/13/03 12:52:36 PM
                Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - Aaron, 10/08/03 08:29:06 AM
        Re: MUSINGS ON AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT - David Anderson, 10/07/03 05:23:04 PM
        The above is abominalby long and dreary. You're warned. nfm - Joris P., 10/07/03 04:30:54 PM

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